The Parenting Conundrum: Investing in Yourself

The following is a guest post from working mom and career development professional Surabhi Lal:

Mama, why do you have to go to office?” my son asks as we are walking to preschool, at least his tenth question over the course of our five minute walk.

Because going to work means we have money to buy you toys and do fun things as a family.”

I then pause and realize that work is part of my identity.

I am privileged to be able to choose my work, and do something I love so I add, “My work is important to me, I like going to work, and I get to see my office friends.”

All of this seems to satisfy him, at least for the moment. I imagine the toy bit would be more than enough for him, but it is important to me that he knows that my work gives me joy and satisfaction.

I always knew that I would be a working parent and that my happiness at work contributes to my happiness in other parts of my life, including parenting.

I am very lucky to find fulfillment in my work, both because I feel like I am using my strengths and talents and because I find meaning in what I do. Between the day-to-day of getting ready for school and work, meals on the table, and a decent amount of sleep, it is hard to find time for myself.

Indeed, one of the hardest things about being a working parent for me is finding time to nurture my interests and hobbies, connect with friends, or doing something to further my professional self.

And like work, making the time for these things makes me a happier person, a better parent, and a better spouse.

The eternal question for me is how to make the time.

Over the last year I have found two ways that work for me.

1.    Put aside short amounts of time on a regular basis.

I have started to put aside one to two hours on a regular basis for myself by rearranging some things in my day.

Sometimes it is during lunch, at night instead of watching something on television, or a rare hour on the weekend when I have the house to myself. In general, this does not involve help from anyone else.

Ideally, I can get this time daily, but I know that is not realistic. If I can get four out of seven days with an hour to myself I consider that a success.

On the plus side, it allows me to have a quick catch up with a friend, do a little internet research, or even write this post. The downside of this is that I find it hard to get deep into thinking through an issue or working on a project such short increments. 

2.    Go all in for a fixed amount of time to focus on myself.

I can better think through a large issue when I can get away from my day-to-day activities and spend a full day, weekend, or more with myself. This is rare and admittedly this is tougher to schedule.

It requires advanced planning. I call on my parenting supports, including my spouse, parents, friends, and sometimes a babysitters. Knowing that my son is well taken care of allows me to focus, collect my thoughts, and work without distraction.

On a recent trip, I was amazed at the amount of writing and planning I could accomplish in between meetings. My productivity started with the travel itself where I got a burst of energy and gave a back burner project some well-deserved attention. I even had time for a short power nap and cleaned out some of my inbox.

During my trip, I gave myself permission to take in new things, reflect, and imagine. Even on business trips, I make it a point to explore. It could be something quick like a short walk through a farmer's market or park, or more leisurely like a meal at a new restaurant, or a visit to a museum.

The combination of productivity and mental space gives me clarity, and I come home rejuvenated, often with a new perspective.

As a director of a career services office, I know how much time and effort it can take to think about a career move. I also know how much hope and promise a new job can bring.

Figuring out what you want to do next takes introspection, which is often much harder than writing resumes and cover letters. And it takes time no matter who you are or what stage of your career you’re in.

Your career direction informs how you will craft your cover letter, explain your skills on your resume, and (re)create your LinkedIn profile. Finding what you want to do, understanding your strengths, and determining the type of environment where you’ll thrive are all key components of the job search.

Sometimes getting away from the day-to-day distractions is what is needed to find what is next.

If that means calling on your parenting supports, using a few vacation days, or planning ahead to take time in a few months, then make that investment in yourself. I bet it will make you a better, happier parent.

And while you’re calling on your parenting supports, shore up your friends and family who will help you through the job search, because while searching for your next job is hopeful, we all know it's not always easy!


Surabhi Lal is the Director of Career Services at NYU’s Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service. Surabhi is also a Consulting Coach for Pivot Journeys and will be on the October 2016 Pivot Iceland trip. Read more about her background here.